Poster's foreword: Initially written by Linus Torvalds in preparation for a symposium held by the University of California at Berkeley regarding the challenges of a network society. Seeing that Linus is probably the leading figure head in starting the open source movement (note E2 is open source) that he wouldn't mind if I let all of you read his ideas freely.
Linus's law says that all of our motivations fall into three basic categories. More important, progress is about going through those very same things as "phases" in a process of evolution, a matter of passing from one category to the next. The categories, in order, are "survival," "social life," and "entertainment."
The first phase, survival, is a truism. Any living thing needs to survive as its first order of business.
But the other two? Assuming you agree with survival as being a fairly fundamental motivational force, the others follow from the question "What are people ready to die for?" I'd say that anything for which you might forfeit your life has to be a fairly fundamental motivation.
You can argue about my choices, but I think they work. You can certainly find instances of people and other living creatures who value their social ties more than they do their lives. In literature, Romeo and Juliet is the classic example, of course, but you can also think about the notion of "dying for your family/country/religion" as a way of explaining the notion of social ties as potentially more important than life itself.
Entertainment may sound like a strange choice, but I mean entertainment more than just playing games on your Nintendo. It's chess. It's painting. It's the mental gymnastics involved in trying to explain the universe. Einstein wasn't motivated by survival when he was thinking about physics. Nor was it probably very social. It was entertainment to him. Entertainment is something intrinsically interesting and challenging.
And the quest for entertainment is certainly strong urge. You might not feel the urge to die for your Nintendo, but think of the expression "dying of boredom": some people, certainly, would rather die than be bored forever, which is why you find people jumping out of perfectly good airplanes — just for the thrill of it, to keep boredom at bay.
What about money as a motivation? Money is certainly useful, but most people would agree that money per se is not what ultimately motivates people. Money is motivational for what it brings — it's the ultimate bartering tool for the things we really care about.
One thing to note about money is that it's usually easy to buy survival, but it is much harder to buy social ties and entertainment. Especially Entertainment with a capital E — the kind that gives your life meaning. One should not dismiss the social impact of having money, whether you buy something or not. Money remains a powerful thing, but still it is just a proxy for other more fundamental motivating factors.
Linus's Law per se is not so much concerned with the fact that these three things motivate people but more with the fact that our progress change from "survival" to "social life" to "entertainment."
Sex? Sure. It obviously started out as survival, and it sill is. No question about that. But in the most highly developed animals, it's progressed past being a thing of pure survival — sex has become part of the social fabric. And for human beings, the pinnacle of sex is entertainment.
Eating and drinking? Check. War? Check. Maybe war is not quite there yet, but CNN is doing it's best to get it to the final stage. It certainly started out as survival, has progressed to a means of maintaining social order, and is inexorably on its way to becoming entertainment.
- Linus Torvalds